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BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA BILL, 2023: An Overview

ABSTRACT

This research paper critically examines the significance, motivations, and implications of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill of 2023, which aims to replace the outdated Criminal Procedure Code of 1898 with comprehensive changes across its 533 sections, including amendments to 160 sections, introduction of 9 new sections, and repeal of 9 sections. The bill’s introduction aligns with India’s transition from 75 to 100 years of independence, resonating with the Prime Minister’s call to eliminate remnants of subjugation and infuse an authentic Indian essence into the criminal justice system. The paper analyzes proposed amendments like technological integration, communication tools, protective measures, and handcuff regulations, as well as provisions related to mercy petitions, non-arrest sampling, police detention, and trials in absentia. While acknowledging the bill’s commendable efforts to modernize the system and expedite legal proceedings, the paper also highlights potential drawbacks, including evidence misuse, privacy concerns, and challenges in implementation. It concludes by stressing the need for a balanced approach that upholds individual rights while enhancing justice delivery through holistic legal reforms.

INTRODUCTION

In a significant move aimed at modernizing and strengthening India’s legal infrastructure, Mr. Amit Shah, the Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Cooperation, took an exceptional stride by presenting three revolutionary bills in the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2023. These legislative proposals comprise the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023, demonstrating the resolute dedication of the government to reforming the criminal justice system. By emphasizing the replacement of outdated laws inherited from the colonial era—the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872—these bills indicate a profound shift towards a legal framework that is fair, impartial, and centered around the well-being of citizens.

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill of 2023, intended as a substitute for the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898, initiates comprehensive modifications within its 533 segments. It is noteworthy that the bill makes revisions to 160 sections, introduces 9 novel sections, and abolishes 9 sections.

The unveiling of these legislations occurs amidst a period characterized by swift technological progress, shifts in societal dynamics, and evolving international norms. The current regulations, established during the British colonial period, have frequently faced censure for their antiquated nature and lack of relevance to modern requirements. The fresh bills mirror the administration’s desire to harmonize the legal framework with the demands of the 21st century, highlighting legal architectures that prioritize citizens, encompass gender neutrality, embrace digital modernization, and emphasize justice as opposed to mere punitive measures.

ANALYSIS

 

WHAT PROMPTED THE INTRODUCTION OF THE BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA BILL?

The Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav will conclude on August 15, 2023, marking the transition from 75 to 100 years of India’s independence, commencing on August 16. During his speech on August 15, 2022, from the Red Fort, the Prime Minister of India outlined the Panch Pran, or five vows, before the nation. Among these, one pledge is to eliminate all remnants of subjugation.

Spanning from 1860 to 2023, India’s legal framework for the criminal justice system persisted based on statutes enacted by the British Parliament. In light of this historical context, three bills have been introduced, aligning with the fulfillment of one of the five vows – infusing a distinct Indian essence to catalyze substantial transformation within the country’s criminal justice system.

SEVERAL KEY ALTERATIONS SUGGESTED IN THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE CRPC INCLUDE:

  • Enhanced Technological Integration: The proposed amendments emphasize an increased utilization of technology in legal proceedings. This includes conducting trials, appeal procedures, and recording depositions, including those of public officials and law enforcement personnel, through electronic means. Accused individuals’ statements can also be documented via video conferencing. Electronic formats may be employed for summonses, warrants, documents, police reports, and statements of evidence.
  • Incorporation of Communication Tools: The bill introduces the concept of electronic communication, encompassing “communication devices.” As per court or police directives, individuals may be required to present any digital evidence-containing document or device for investigative purposes.
  • Handcuff Use Regulation: In cases involving repeat offenders who have escaped custody or committed serious crimes like organized criminal activities, terrorism, or offenses against the state, police officers may be authorized to employ handcuffs during arrests.
  • Specific Protective Measures: A prominent safeguard against arrests, currently outlined in Section 41A of the CrPC, will be renumbered as Section 35 and revised. An additional clause mandates that individuals cannot be arrested without prior permission from an officer ranked no lower than Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) if the offense carries a punishment of less than 3 years or if the individual is over 60 years old.
  • Mercy Petitions Framework: The bill establishes procedures concerning the timeframes for submitting mercy petitions in cases involving death sentences. Following notification from prison authorities about the disposal of a death row convict’s petition, the convict, their legal heir, or relative can submit a mercy petition to the Governor within 30 days. If denied, the person can appeal to the President within 60 days. No legal recourse against the President’s decision is permissible.
  • Prosecution Sanction: The government must decide on granting or denying sanction to prosecute a public servant within 120 days of receiving a request. Failure to do so will result in automatic sanction being assumed. Sanction is not mandated in cases involving offenses such as sexual crimes or trafficking.
  • Procession-Related Regulations: While the provisions empowering district magistrates under Section 144 of the CrPC remain unchanged, the power to prohibit carrying arms during processions, mass drills, or training sessions is omitted from Section 144A.
  • Non-Arrest Sampling: The proposed amendments permit magistrates to order individuals to provide samples of their signature, handwriting, voice, or finger impressions for investigative purposes without necessitating their arrest.
  • Police Detention Provisions: Provisions are outlined to empower the police to detain or remove individuals who resist, refuse, or ignore lawful directives during preventive actions.
  • In Absentia Trials: The framework for trials in absentia is outlined, particularly in stringent anti-terrorism legislation like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In such cases, the burden of proof shifts to the accused, requiring them to prove their innocence rather than the state having the responsibility to prove guilt.

 

IMPORTANCE OF THE BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA BILL:

This legislation holds immense significance as it aims to consolidate and modify the legal provisions governing criminal procedures. It introduces explicit timelines for expeditious investigations, trials, and verdicts, ensuring a swift dispensation of justice.

The bill’s essence lies in its commitment to hastening the delivery of justice, a crucial aspect in today’s fast-paced world. It aligns seamlessly with the Digital India initiative of the government, embracing the use of technology to enhance legal processes. For instance, the bill grants admissibility to digital or electronic records as evidence, granting them the same legal weight and enforceability as traditional paper records.

A notable feature is its focus on citizen-centricity, exemplified by the provision for promptly supplying a First Information Report (FIR) to complainants. Furthermore, victims are kept informed about case progress through digital means.

The bill introduces the concept of a summary trial for minor offenses, enabling a swifter resolution in such cases. Additionally, the innovation of a ‘Zero FIR’ is significant. This provision empowers individuals to lodge an FIR at any police station, transcending jurisdictional limitations. Moreover, it mandates the transfer of this FIR to the appropriate police station within 15 days, ensuring efficient handling of cases regardless of the location of the crime.

 

DISADVANTAGES OF THE BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA BILL:

While the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill brings about notable reforms in the criminal justice system, it is crucial to critically examine its potential drawbacks and concerns. These disadvantages can raise questions about the effectiveness and impact of the proposed changes:

  • Potential for Misuse: The increased use of technology, while beneficial in many ways, can also open avenues for manipulation and misuse. The admissibility of digital evidence might inadvertently allow fabricated or tampered evidence to be presented, raising questions about the reliability and authenticity of such records.
  • Privacy Concerns: The greater emphasis on electronic communication and digital records could potentially infringe upon individuals’ privacy rights. The collection and storage of electronic evidence raise concerns about data security and the potential for unauthorized access or breaches.
  • Summary Trials and Fairness: While summary trials are meant to expedite proceedings, they might compromise the principles of a fair trial. The swift resolution of cases might not allow adequate time for gathering evidence, cross-examination, or presenting a comprehensive defense, potentially leading to unjust outcomes.
  • Zero FIR Implementation Challenges: The provision of filing a ‘Zero FIR’ at any police station, although seemingly progressive, might pose practical challenges in terms of coordination between different police stations and determining the appropriate jurisdiction for investigation. The transfer of cases within 15 days might not always be feasible, causing delays and confusion.
  • Lack of Judicial Oversight: The bill places considerable responsibility on law enforcement agencies to decide whether to arrest an individual or not. This might lead to situations where the threshold for arrests becomes arbitrary, potentially resulting in the violation of individual rights and liberties.
  • Absence of Comprehensive Torture Prevention: The bill falls short in addressing comprehensive measures to prevent torture and custodial violence, which are significant concerns. The focus on speedy justice should not come at the expense of safeguarding the rights and dignity of individuals in custody.

 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, while the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill presents commendable efforts to modernize and streamline India’s criminal justice system, it is important to acknowledge the potential disadvantages that come with such extensive reforms. Striking a balance between expeditious justice delivery and safeguarding individual rights is a delicate task. As the legal community and society as a whole engage in discussions surrounding these proposed changes, it is imperative to carefully address these concerns and ensure that the spirit of justice prevails, upholding both the rule of law and the protection of citizens’ rights.

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Written by- Mansi Malpani